Restoring the rosters: No. 18 – Oakland

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This is part of a series of articles examining what every team’s roster would look like if given only the players it originally signed. I’m compiling the rosters, ranking them and presenting them in a countdown from Nos. 30 to 1.
No. 30 – Cincinnati
No. 29 – Kansas City
No. 28 – San Diego
No. 27 – Milwaukee
No. 26 – Baltimore
No. 25 – Chicago (AL)
No. 24 – Chicago (NL)
No. 23 – Pittsburgh
No. 22 – Detroit
No. 21 – Tampa Bay
No. 20 – New York (NL)
No. 19 – Houston
The Moneyball draft didn’t spark a revolution, and the A’s just haven’t been all that successful at bringing in new talent this decade. That said, they don’t fare badly for a team that went eight straight years without a top-15 draft pick.
Rotation
Tim Hudson
Joe Blanton
Rich Harden
Dallas Braden
Barry Zito
Bullpen
Huston Street
Andrew Bailey
Kevin Gregg
Jared Burton
Santiago Casilla
Trevor Cahill
Vin Mazzaro
Four years ago, a rotation of Hudson, Zito, Mark Mulder, Harden and Jeremy Bonderman probably would have topped anything else these rankings have to offer. I’ve written off Mulder, though, and I don’t expect a whole lot from Bonderman going forward. At least Braden and Zito look like reliable enough fourth starters behind a quality trio, and Cahill remains one of the AL’s most promising young starters.
The bullpen has a nice one-two punch, and Gregg isn’t so bad as a third reliever. It’s just too bad the A’s didn’t come up with the money to sign their 40th-round pick from the Moneyball draft in 2002, one Jonathan Papelbon.
Lineup
1B Nick Swisher
LF Andre Ethier
SS Miguel Tejada
RF Ryan Ludwick
3B Mark Teahen
C Kurt Suzuki
DH Jason Giambi
2B Esteban German
CF Travis Buck
Bench
OF Eric Byrnes
INF Bobby Crosby
INF Cliff Pennington
C John Baker
Unfortunately, Oakland’s impressive catching factory does only so much good here. Besides Suzuki and Baker, the team has also produced Ramon Hernandez, Gerald Laird and Miguel Olivo.
Also considered for the team was Dan Johnson, who has a case for starting over Giambi. Sadly, Eric Chavez seems like a weaker bet than Teahen going forward, though he’s another who could have been picked over Giambi.
If you don’t like Swisher in the leadoff spot, you can slot German and his .357 career OBP there and move everyone else down a spot.
As one might expect, defense is something of an issue here, since the A’s haven’t been loading up on toolsy up-the-middle players. Pennington is a nice upgrade over German defensively and should start when Hudson is on the mound, but I still think German is the better player. Buck offers below average range in center, and Byrnes might be the better option during those rare occasions when he’s 100 percent. Byrnes would definitely play over Buck against lefties.
Summary
There won’t be much Billy Beane bashing here. From 2000-07, the highest pick the A’s had in the draft was 16th, which was compensation from the Red Sox in 2002 and was used to select Swisher. The next highest was 21st. They weren’t passing over potential superstars to take safer college players; they simply never had a shot at the best the draft had to offer. Should they forgone spending $20 million on Esteban Loaiza and used some of that cash to try to find the next Tejada in the Dominican Republic? Of course. But they did fairly well with what they had, and if they hadn’t been particularly hard hit with injuries, they’d rank higher here.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.